355. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Thomas Southey, [30 October 1798]

355. Robert Southey and Edith Southey to Thomas Southey, [30 October 1798] ⁠* 

[start of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

The Sailor

Who had served in the Slave Trade. [1] 

He stopt. – it surely was a groan
That from the hovel came!
He stopt & listened anxiously
Again it sounds the same.

It surely from the hovel comes
And now he hastens there –
And thence he hears the name of Christ
Amidst a broken prayer.

He enterd in the hovel now –
A sailor there he sees.
His hands were lifted up to heaven
And he was on his knees.

Nor did the sailor so intent
His entering footsteps heed,
But now the Lords prayer said, & now
His half forgotten creed.

And often on his saviour calld
With many a bitter groan,
In such heart anguish as could spring
From deepest guilt alone.

He askd the miserable man
Why he was kneeling there,
And what the crime had been that causd
The anguish of his prayer.

Oh I have done a wicked thing
It haunts me night & day –
And I have sought this lonely place
Here undisturbd to pray.

I have no place to pray on board
So I came here alone,
That I might freely kneel & pray,
And call on Christ and groan.

If to the main-mast head I go,
The wicked one is there,
From place to place, from rope to rope
He follows every where.

I shut my eyes – it matters not –
Still still the same I see, –
And when I lie me down at night
Tis always day with me.

He follows follows every where
And every place is hell –
O God – & I must go with him
In endless fire to dwell.

He follows follows every where,
Hes still above – below,
Oh tell me where to fly from him!
Oh tell me where to go.

But tell me, quoth the Stranger then.
What this thy crime hath been,
So haply I may comfort give
To one that grieves for sin.

Oh I have done a cursed deed
The wretched man replies –
And night & day & every where
Tis still before my eyes.

I saild on board a guinea-man
And to the slave coast went,
Would that the sea had swallowd me
When I was innocent.

And we took in our cargo there
Three hundred negro slaves,
And we saild homeward merrily
Over the ocean waves.

But some were sulky of the slaves
And would not touch their meat,
So therefore we were forced by threats
And blows to make them eat.

One woman sulkier than the rest
Would still refuse her food,
O Jesus God! I hear her cries
I see her in her blood!

The Captain made me tie her up
And flog while he stood by,
And then he cursd me if I staid
My hand to hear her cry.

She groand, she shriekd – I could not spare
For the Captain he stood by
Dear God, that I might rest one night
From that poor womans cry!

She twisted from the blows – her blood
Her mangled flesh I see –
And still the Captain would not spare
Oh he was worse than me!

She could not be more glad than I
When she was taken down.
A blessed minute – twas the last
That I have ever known!

I did not close my eyes all night
Thinking what I had done
I heard her groans & they grew faint
Till at the morn she died.
About the rising sun

She groand & groand, but her groans grew
Fainter at morning Tide,
Fainter & fainter still they came
Till at the morn she died.

They flung her overboard, poor wretch
She rested from her pain
But when O Christ – o blessed God –
Shall I have rest again.

I saw the sea close over her,
Yet she was still in sight –
I see her twisting every where –
I see her day & night.

Go where I will, do what I can
The wicked one I see –
Dear Christ have mercy on my soul,
O God deliver me!

Tomorrow I set sail again
Not to the Negro shore –
Wretch that I am I will at least
Commit that sin no more.

Oh give me comfort if you can –
Oh tell me where to fly –
And bid me hope, if hope there be
For one so lost as I.

Poor wretch, the stranger he replied,
Put thou thy trust in heaven,
And call on him for whose dear sake
All sins shall be forgiven. [2] 

This night at least is thine, go thou –
And seek the house of prayer –
There shalt thou hear the word of God
And he will help thee there!


[End of section in Edith Southey’s hand]

This my dear Tom which Edith has copied for you is a true story. it is about six weeks since a friend [3]  of Cottles found a sailor thus praying in a cowhouse & held a conversation with him of which the exact substance is in the ballad.

Now Tom about yourself. This day fortnight I go to London to keep a term. my stay cannot exceed a fortnight, then I will enquire your time for you at the Admirality, so when you write next let me know exactly what I am to ask. Now it will be just as well for you to visit us here as if we were in London, & if you can get leave I should think you might spend your Christmas better at Martin hall than in dock. As your time is so limited at home always, I do not wish you there till I am returned from London. but the earlier you can meet me after my return the better – only you should contrive to be here at Xmas. It will not do to keep this house longer than the twelvemonths, but it is so comfortable a place that I should be sorry if you did not see it. you will like to remember it, even in the nakedness of winter.

I have had a delightful weeks walk with Danvers, but the best adventure ‘as how we are taken up for spies’, shall be reserved till we meet. it has been a fine fund of merriment for us & you shall not share it at a distance.

It is not I think worth while to send you my second edition of poems, till it can be accompanied with the second volume. of which one sheet is already printed. [4]  its contents are to be the Vision of the Maid. War Poems, Ballads – two or three miscellaneous pieces, & my English Eclogues, which I last night finished very much to my own satisfaction. I take my motto to t[MS torn] volume from Spenser –

The better please, the worse displease; I ask no more. [5] 

unless you prefer what John Bunyan says of his Pilgrims Progress,

It came from mine own heart, so to my head,
And thence into my fingers trickled;
Then to my pen, from whence immediately
On paper I did dribble it daintily. [6] 

You should have been here during the season of currants & raspberries – or to have assisted in squailing down the walnuts. however there is still a besom or two in the walnut tree which you may exert your ingenuity to dislodge.

Edith is but poorly. my Mother continues well, & grows fat. – you blundered in your direction to Lloyd he is at Caius College Cambridge, not Oxford. he tells me I can get to him from London for four shillings & if so I think I shall visit him for a couple of days shortly.

You need not be anxious about your time. peace is more distant than ever, & the war seems likely to outlast you & I. it will hold as long as the Public Purse holds. heavy taxes are coming [7]  – a tenth of all income & for this we have “Rule Britannia” & an illumination.

God bless you.


You do not say if you have received the Old Woman of Berkely. [8] 


* Address: To/ Mr Thomas Southey./ H.M.S. Royal George/ Spithead/ Single
Stamped: [partial] TOL
MS: British Library, Add MS 30927. (A)LS; 4p.
Dating note: In this letter Southey states he intends to travel to London in two weeks time. The journey occurred on 13 November 1798, dating this letter to 30 October. BACK

[1] Published in Southey’s Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [103]–114. BACK

[2] He stopt ... forgiven: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[3] Possibly William Pine (d. 1803), leading Bristol Methodist and printer of the Bristol Gazette, or his son, William Pine (1769–1837). BACK

[4] Poems (1799) was published in two volumes: the first was a revised third edition of the collection first published in 1797; the second was a new collection. BACK

[5] Edmund Spenser (1552–1599; DNB), Shepherd’s Calendar (1579), Epilogue, line 12. Southey began Poems (1799) with these words. BACK

[6] John Bunyan (1628–1688; DNB), The Holy War (1682), ‘An Advertisement to the Reader’, lines 11–14. BACK

[7] Southey was correct. In his December 1798 Budget, the Prime Minister William Pitt (1759–1806; DNB) introduced the first income tax. The highest rate was 10% on incomes over £200 pa. BACK

[8] Southey’s ‘A Ballad Shewing how an Old Woman Rode Double and Who Rode Before Her’, published in Poems, 2 vols (Bristol, 1799), II, pp. [143]–160. This poem was sent to Tom Southey on 5 October 1798, Letter 351. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Cottle, Joseph (1770–1853) (mentioned 1 time)
Southey, Margaret (1752–1802) (mentioned 1 time)
Lloyd, Charles (1775–1839) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Martin Hall (mentioned 1 time)